back to article Ares I: What's the point?

The chairman of the committee tasked by president Barack Obama with reviewing the future of the US's human spaceflight programme has questioned the value of NASA's Ares I rocket, just days before its first test flight. The committee yesterday released its final report (pdf), offering pretty much the same options it suggested …


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  1. Annihilator

    Looking forward to de-orbit of ISS

    If only to see the realisation of the guy who switches the lights off, arriving back on Terra Firma and shouting "Bugger!! I left my hat up there"

  2. Tam Lin

    Skunkworks to doesn'tworks: 50 years of NASA

    I've known NASA engineers from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Using a spreadsheet to extrapolate - something we learned from Columbia that current engineers are incapable of - their skills forward, NASA engineers of the 2010's won't be able to accelerate themselves out of bed in the morning.

  3. beast666

    What a waste....

    It's less capable than the shuttle, and it has serious pogo problems! Upgrade the shuttle ffs, or am I wrong about this???

  4. Spot the Cat

    Ares 1?

    I can't be the only one who read that as Arse 1, can I? Oh.....

  5. John 174

    If only it were true...

    "....has questioned the value of NASA's Ares I rocket, just days before its first test flight."

    Ummm, no. That's not Ares 1 lifting off, or anything even close. It's a hollow shell:

    Ares 1 is still billions of dollars away from a test flight. This flight consists of a Shuttle SRB with a dummy fifth segment added, a fake Ares shell, and a fake Orion.

    Top speed mach 4.7 and only going up about 150,000ft. Nothing much to be seen here other than vibration data. The most useful vibration data would come from the fifth segment, where they think the heavy vibrations will occur, but sadly that will have to wait till the next flight. Mostly what they will get out of this one is tweaks for the flight control system and a preview of what some of the ground handling issues are. Of course, with no complete gantry and no fueling of the upper stage, this benefit is slim at best.

  6. LPF

    Shuttle upgrade

    Thats what I cant work out, why not rebuild or redesign a new shuttle. You have boosters and

    fuel tank already. How hard would it have been to create a new shuttle with updated equipement and better maintainable heat shielding and wing protection from FOB strikes???

  7. Sarah Baucom
    Thumb Down

    Just days before?

    This particular report stating that it's a waste might be just days before the test flight, but I believe there have been many people saying for years that modifying the Delta IV for human flight would have been cheaper and faster than an entirely new launch vehicle. The Delta IV would probably be safer as well, since it uses liquid boosters rather than solid fuel boosters as the Ares.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    de-orbit in 2016...!

    yeah right, like they or the ISA are gonna chuck that much hardware away, like that!...

    with ion drives coming along in leaps and bounds, its odds on the ol' usa will drop out of the space race alltogether and it will be taken over by the ESA and china.

    and kept working up there on a lot less than than was being wasted by nasa admin costs

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Isn't 1960s technology great?

    At this rate of progress, the USA will be sending monkeys up into space within 10 years.

  10. andrew mulcock
    Paris Hilton


    And the thing looks dammed ugly,

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ beast666

    'It's less capable than the shuttle, and it has serious pogo problems! Upgrade the shuttle ffs, or am I wrong about this???'

    The problem with the Shuttle was it did lots of things not very well. Ares I does at least have a clear mission without all the compromises that so ruined the Shuttle by the time it flew. The Shuttle could have its life extended, but the people who designed it and built it are all now long retired or dead, the production lines and jigs are all long scrapped. There's no going back. And the Soviet Shuttle has long since been broken up (admittedly after a building fell on it).

    As for pogo, yes it *could* be a problem. Firstly, to correct the article, the thing wouldn't shake itself to pieces on the pad, pogo is a flight problem.

    Secondly, pogo is fixable. Apollo 6, the second flight of the Saturn V nearly ended in disaster because of pogo. There was a violent first stage pogo well beyond what had been seen in Apollo 4. The CSM/LM actually began to disintegrate with quite large chunks coming free. Had the mission been manned the automatic abort would have been invoked. NASA got to work detuning the first stage and had that resolved by the time of Apollo 10's flight.

    Second stage pogo nearly destroyed Apollo 13 before its SM oxygen tank had a chance to kill the crew. There was an undiagnosed turbo-pump resonance that caused massive shaking in the central J2 engine. Fortunately the engine's computer noticed an ongoing deviation from preset parameters and initiated a shutdown before pogo tore the engine from its mounts.

    Saturn V was never thoroughly de-pogoed, and yet its probably the most successful rocket NASA ever built.

    And I never got the chance to see one fired.

  12. Michael C


    ...we are not getting there with people until we have a fairly well establiched base on the Moon. Likely, we're not getting there until we have a better established ISS. If the current one is coming crashing to earth in 2016, it will likly be 2020 until we have a new one funtional enough to use as a staging area to build a moon base, and 2025 before we're assembling a larger craft there to head to Mars.

    But honestly, Why?

    We need an ISS for some research. It would not be a bad idea if we staffed a few more folks up there in a larger station, and gave them a run-a-bout type craft to service sattelites with. It's a pain to service crap from down here, sending both men and equipment. Have 2 craft for sending me from earth to space, and some various simple craft to put STUFF up there. The guys already in space could colelct the stuff, and move it to final orbits,and return to the space base. This is more efficint, cheaper, and a more long term solution. Abandon all other efforts until this is finalized (other than robot based missions).

  13. Gene Cash Silver badge


    The shuttle doesn't really HAVE an upgrade path, it's pretty much maxed out unless you make major design changes, and that would be like "upgrading" your Camry by buying an F150.

    Personally, I think they should have upgraded the shuttle by making a liquid fuel flyback booster. That would get rid of insulation falling of the tank, it would eliminate the risk of the solids going boom, it would give you an abort option during the time the solids usually burn, and any aborts would be much more gentle and safer. BUT you'd no longer have an expensive assembly line for tanks & solids, and lots of jobs would disappear.

    And the Ares problems are LOTS more than just pogo & vibration, too.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Natural Outcome

    It is the Gov't itself that has given NASA more objectives than it is funded for. The International Space Station was largely a subsidy for the Russians who now that they have some money of their own want nothing more to do with it.

  15. Mark York 3 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Ian Drury

    "Waste of cash, says spaceflight review chairman"

    Lets scrub it & think about something new on the drawing board - How much will that cost in money & delays, not to mention either extending the life of the shuttles until something fails & the loss of face by having to hitch-hike to space with the Russians.

    PH - Because once it's up she knows it's not going to waste.

  16. Jeff 10

    Deorbiting the ISS?

    In 2016? They've been building it for more years already than they have left in it, and it's not even quite finished yet. Seems they should at least keep it up another decade past that to really try to get some ROI on it. Hardly seems worth it for just 7 more years. I don't think it's produced that much useful science yet- it is just getting interesting with the latest additions.

    Bringing it down that early makes me wonder what it really was about... a lot of robotic missions could have been achieved with that money.

  17. gollux

    Capital Burnrate...

    So much been spent for so little return...

    Just shut it all down...

  18. Anonymous Coward

    ISS de-orbit in 2016!?!

    So does that mean there finally scuttling it? I bet the Russians are rue the day that they agreed to de-orbit Mir. Sure they had a few fires and what not, but at least they actually could do some research. As far as I can tell the only real win that the Americans had in the space was that they got spam in a can to the moon first. Anyone remember skylab?

  19. stizzleswick

    @beast666 & LPF

    Well, the thing is that the Space Shuttle concept has shown that while it seemed promising in the late 1970s, in reality it is somewhat prone to failure despite huge efforts to make it safe: if the Space Shuttle system were to try out for a human-safe rating today, it would fail outright. But that's not the clincher. It is way too expensive per launch compared with more modern approaches, like the Ariane 5 system (which at one point was considered to be checked out for a human-safe rating) and several other, already-existing launch vehicles.

    Me, I'm looking forward to what Burt Rutan et al are going to come up with. If they had the benefit of the budget NASA is currently throwing away on a dead end, I bet they'd have something capable of reaching GTO within the next five years, with full human-safe rating. For anybody who can't compute an orbit, from there to the moon it's just a small step for a human, but a giant leap in space travel.

  20. DocM

    NASA's wrong -way duck....

    Can't use the shuttle side-mount model as that's what has been causing the foam-shredding issue that killed Columbia. Foam will shred at hypersonic speeds, and some of it will impact wings, so the old paradigm is a non-starter. Better to go inline with the people at the top - that way any foam shed by the tank can't hit whatever they're in.

    Actually makes more sense to use a capsule for people and a cargo lifter for cargo since each has specific differences. Trying to do both with the same tool is what cost us 14 astronauts and two shuttles. IOW don't use a table saw to do a screwdrivers job.

    For LEO the best and cheapest answer would be to haul people up with SpaceX's Dragon on a Falcon 9, and the first pairing of those is being shipped to LC-40 at the Cape in November for launch either late this year or Q1 2010. Unlike Ares I-X this is a real-deal booster and the Dragon testbed is one of their qualification units, not just a dummy load.

    NASA and SpaceX started about the same time. NASA is launching a bottle rocket and SpaceX is launching something more akin to what Ares I-Y is expected to be, but 3-4 years before that flight is scheduled (if indeed that ever happens) and on a much, much smaller dime.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    "Thats what I cant work out, why not rebuild or redesign a new shuttle."

    Depends what you want to do with your rebuilt shuttle. Land on the Moon? Mars? These are stated aims of the Constellation programme.

    You have boosters andfuel tank already.

    Boosters yes. The external tank is expendable but its production linew was working well.

    "How hard would it have been to create a new shuttle with updated equipement and better maintainable heat shielding and wing protection from FOB strikes???"

    Designing a new shuttle which stayed with the same size and shape would be *relatively* easy. NASA has developed numerous possible improvements to the various systems over the years. Changing its existing shape and size forces *very* substantial re-analysis due to the complex interactions between all 4 parts during launch. This would probably trigger re-design of the other components as well.

    Making your re-designed shuttle is another matter. Estimated costs for re-opening production of an Apollo era J2 engine line (looked at for the x33 project) was estimated at just under a $1bn. That's just the engine, not the whole stage. Quite a lot of the original supply chain no longer exists.

    The shuttle heat shielding is maintainable. It could even be made permanently waterproof (NASA Ames research project c1997. using CVD coating of transition metal flourides). Making it FOD proof is another matter. NASA optimised for weight. Heat shield design influences the whole shape and performance of a design. Start tinkering (which is what was done to the insulating foam on the tank) and slight changes can have big consequences.

    You might like to look at the DIRECT approach, which retaines the tanks and uses expendable engines to give a 2 stage very big expendable lift vehicle.

    But the real issues would be NASA senior managers ability to implement such a programme and get funding to run it. Their track record is not good.

  22. snafu


    Because the shuttle was and is a bad idea: its cargo capability is not that great,its dead weight wings don't contribute lift during ascent, its placement in the stack produces off-axis loads, subjects it to fuel tank pieces impacts and makes emergency separations problematic, uses uncontrollable solid fuel rockets, and above all, has a deadly track record.

    Getting a heavy loads launcher is more interesting and flexible, I think.

  23. Remy Redert

    re: Shuttle upgrade

    You mean overhaul or redesign. A simple updating of the Shuttle design leaves you with some of the biggest flaws still in place.

    For one, we have the technology necessary to use RAM and SCRAM jets. That huge external tank? A thing of the past. You'll still want an external tank for take-off, but it can much smaller as it only needs to store hydrogen. Making a bimodal RAM/rocket engine is a matter of having the necessary oxygen pumps, inlet and a way to seal one end of the engine.

    That will allow a much more efficient design, using the SRBs to achieve minimum velocity for its engines, then burning atmospheric oxygen and the hydrogen is brought in its tanks to achieve orbital velocity. For the same amount of hydrogen (and thus energy) you can now put a whole lot more payload in low orbit (Or the same payload in a higher orbit) because you no longer need to lug all that liquid oxygen around for your engines to burn while you're still in atmosphere.

  24. Adam Salisbury

    Shuttle Upgrade

    I'm with all the other posters who're wondering why we're not doing a new shuttle!?! It's just plain stoopid

  25. paulc

    oh dear... the "Is it useful" test...

    there are some many things we take for granted today that never would have seen the light of day had they been strangled at birth by the "is it useful" test...

  26. dyfet

    Shuttle upgrades

    The problem with keeping the shuttle is that while originally billed as a "cheap" way to go to low orbit, it actually is a VERY expensive program to run, even more so than conventional rockets it was intended to replace as a "lower cost" alternative. Indeed, as a pure cargo hauler, even the old Saturn V could have done the job with significantly less operational cost per actual pound delivered to orbit, as it turns out. NASA may not have funds to build even an Ares 1, but it definitely doesn't have funds to keep running a very expensive shuttle program when also adding the cost of building new or replacement shuttles, either.

  27. lglethal Silver badge

    @ LPF

    Your assuming NASA hasnt lost the original plans like they have with the Saturn V schematics and the original high quality moon landing vids...

  28. Greg J Preece

    The shuttle is much better than this

    Probably a lot more expensive, but look at it - that's a proper 20th century spaceship, and no messin'. Let's design an updated version of that. Higher payload, greater capability, and let's not forget - more internal space! What the hell happened to Venturestar anyway?

  29. Titus Aduxass

    Going backwards

    I'm not qualified to comment. But then 99.9% of El Reg commenters aren't either. However it seems to me that the 1X flight goes back to the days before "all up" testing.

    The last big booster tested in stages as far as I can recall was the Saturn 1. And that was the early 1960s.

    Ares 1X is simply testing a SRB with an IU on top.


  30. James O'Brien

    @Spot the Cat

    No...sadly your not :(

    Though I did have a giggle when I read it like that.

    Speaking of high flying things whats the current status on Vulture 1? Been a while since we had news about that.

  31. Rob Daglish


    I wouldn't worry about my hat - it would be down soon enough. The only thing would be finding it, as I doubt very much that it'll come down where they expect...

  32. vincent himpe

    they can't make shuttles anymore

    the people that used to weave the ferrite core memory wires are all retiered or dead. it's a lost art....

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Nu Labor

    This flight consists of a Shuttle SRB with a dummy fifth segment added, a fake Ares shell, and a fake Orion.

    Have they had Gordon Brown advising, this sounds like a New Labour Moon Rocket.

    All show and no substance, and a promise of delivery after the 'next' election...

  34. John70

    Next Step...?

    Isn't the next step from the Space Shuttle is to develop a space craft that can take off from a runway (or VTOL) and enter earth's orbit without the need for booster rockets?

    I think using a capsule is a backward step for the space programme.

    Just start using those captured alien flying saucers...

  35. Thorsten


    "How hard would it have been to create a new shuttle with updated equipement and better maintainable heat shielding and wing protection from FOB strikes???"

    Yeah, it's not exactly rocket science, innit?

    <roll eyes>

  36. James Hughes 1


    Shuttles are a crap way of getting stuff in to space, because they carry so much useless mass (wings undercarriage, heat shield etc). They are also colossally expensive in comparison to throw away boosters, because they are so complicated and fragile.

    Of course, wings etc are only useless if you don't need to bring heavy stuff back, which is the usual case. By far the cheapest way to get stuff in to space is big (very big) launchers, if you need to bring people back, use simple capsules.

    Until there is a need to bring back heavy stuff, the shuttle is a dead duck.

  37. Johnny Canuck


    Instead of de-orbitting the ISS they should push it into orbit around the moon or mars.

  38. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A note on Venturestar, old parts and scamjets

    "What the hell happened to Venturestar anyway?"

    Well after NASA has p*%^sed away about $1.6bn in funding they still only had a bunch of parts instead of a completed flight test programme. NASA claimed that this *proved* single-stage-to-orbit flight is impossible.

    I would suggest it actually proved NASA has trouble running a modern X-programme, Lockmart can play a NASA assesment team like a violin and SSTO is only impossible if you *insist* on trying to do it with a LOX/LH2 fuelled lifting body with unproven heat shield tech and a very akward shaped composite LH2 tank (when it turned out the backup design in Aluminium-Lithium was the *same* weight as the planned composite tank).

    But it did kneecap any potential competition in the launch vehicle market for years to come. A pretty good investment for Lockmart, promising a great deal more company funding while being virtually certain (having picked the *right* staff for the job) that it would never fly.

    "the people that used to weave the ferrite core memory wires are all retiered or dead. it's a lost art...."

    Good thing they phased them out of the main computers during the upgrade in 1986. However it is a fact that a lot of the original shuttle parts suppliers are either gone completely or changed beyond all recognition. One good reson for keeping things as simple as possible

    "For one, we have the technology necessary to use RAM and SCRAM jets"

    You might like to google "The airbreathers burden" before being quite so impressed.

    The dream of burning atmospheric O2 to give most of the delta V to reach orbit was the delusion behind NASP. The predecessor NASA programme that p*%^sed away about $1.0bn in funding in the late 80s, early 90s. You might like to read "Facing the Heat Barrier." SP-2007-4232, The history of NASA's involvment with hypersonics and NASP's optimistic promoter one Anthony Dupont.

    After about 6 decades of work some teams have achieved supersonic combustion and *positive* thrust. The funding this has consumed and the effort involved is why a lot of people who have ever looked at propulsion options for reaching orbit (not cruise) call them "Scamjets."

    BTW H2 is 1/16 the density of O2. Eliminating the LOX tank won't shrink that ET by that much. Please note, a good airbreather engine has T/W ratio of 10 (no one is talking anywhere near that for a scramjet), which is why aircraft thrust is roughly 1/3 takeoff masss. A poor rocket manages a T/W of 40. The Shuttle engines at ground level do about 56. The best performing Lox/hydrocarbon engines about 100+.

    You can guess what's in my pocket.

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